Regardless of what Santa might decide come Christmas day, judging by how utterly spoilt I've been for my birthday, I must have been very good this year... or I'm just surrounded by the best people. Probably the latter.
The best of the best being, of course, my incredible husband E. He always spoils me rotten (not just on special occasions, and I don't mean in a material sense - he does a lot for me, all the time), and he knows me so well. He'd already gifted me a dreamy present from when we went to New York (I am subsequently obsessed with all things Henri Bendel), so I definitely did not expect him to take me out for what was the best lunch I've ever had in London. A bold statement, and one that means it surpassed the likes of Alain Ducasse (ok, only by a hair, but still) and l'Atelier de Joel Robuchon.
The Ledbury is a restaurant that was number one on my wish list for quite a long time, but the price, paired with the notorious hard-to-book factor, made it one that sat on a pedestal, waiting for just the right occasion and good organisation on our part. So when E told me that he was taking me there and he had booked several weeks in advance, I was over the moon! It was one of the things that I most looked forward to on our way back from NYC, that eased the pain of us having to leave...
Now, I mentioned the price being not the most accessible, but they actually have a set lunch menu on offer that is of amazing value, in my opinion. For £50, you are able to enjoy 4 courses, plus amuses bouches and petits fours, which is very good deal for an experience at an exceptional establishment with 2 Michelin stars.
We opted for the lunch menu, but were also able to try a couple of extra courses, and a special birthday dessert on top of our own desserts - we were extremely lucky and so grateful. Honestly, we expected just the lunch menu itself and that alone would have been enough to wow us.
When we sat down, there was a birthday card on the table signed by the chef, which was such a lovely touch and made me feel like royalty!
So we kicked off with three amuses bouches - seaweed crackers with smoked mussel, and spiced deer dumplings, and guinea fowl and foie gras puffs. (NB: please forgive me if I've forgotten some details about the dishes, I should have written everything down but was too busy being on cloud 9!) Would you just look at that festive nest of pine needles? You'll see that every single dish is as beautiful as they are delicious, and as I was going through the photos I took, I kept taking a look at the different plates and arrangements - so much thought and detail.
Our first two courses were:
- Candy Beetroot, Baked in Clay, Smoked and Dried Eel
- Flame Grilled Mackerel, Pickled Cucumber, Celtic Mustard and Shiso
The candy beetroot was stunning, and such a genius pairing with the eel, topped with English caviar. The mackerel simply melted in your mouth, and we just kept telling each other that we couldn't believe how good this dish was. Just so you know, I'm going to keep my descriptions nice and brief - I could harp on all day about every single dish we ate there, but there is a limit to how much I can describe it without you trying it yourself!
Our next three courses were:
- Agen Prune, Earl Grey and Bacon (stuffed prune with parsnip)
- Roast Cauliflower, Lobster Butter, Basil and Parmesan
- Fallow Prickett, Grilled Violina Pumpkin, Smoked Bone Marrow and Verjus
As you can probably tell by now, all of these dishes are spectacular, without there being any sign of style over substance, and the focus is on each ingredient shining in its own right. They're deceptively simple, and every element makes sense, which I so admire in a world of fine dining where things are often unnecessarily full of frills. That cauliflower dish was possibly the most beautiful plate of food I have ever laid eyes on - I still just stare at that photo in awe! The fallow dish used 4 different parts of the meat, which is a prime example of how imaginative and organic these creations are.
The lunch menu gives you a choice of cheese or dessert, but for a £10 supplement, you can take a cheese course as an extra. We chose to share a cheese platter (I was quite full by this point, so I had to be persuaded, and had I known I had a dessert and a half coming I'm not sure I would have relented...), which is always such a luxury. I have a weakness for that theatrical moment, where the cheese trolley comes towards you and you're put in a food coma just from looking at it! Needless to say, each one we tried was sublime (I couldn't tell you what exactly we tried, but I hope it's good enough that E the Frenchman (aka cheese guru) gave them all a thumbs up).
For dessert, there's only one option on the menu, but E chose a different one from the a la carte menu with no problem. I was so touched when they brought out the Happy Birthday dessert - and it was just small enough that we could manage it!
- Ice cream of Kaffir Lime and Bergamot Curd (with a cake donut on the side)
- Brown sugar tart
- Warm chocolate and banana tart
The flavour of my ice cream was so exotic and creative, and the donut was a great touch. E's brown sugar tart was something quite special - almost like a crème brûlée with a twist? I was wondering if I could even stand up by the end of it all, but then of course, the petits fours came to finish us off. Yuzu ice cream balls and juniper caramel - again, such imaginative flavours but never over the top.
We were lucky enough to pop down to the kitchen after our meal, to have a quick look around (what a slick operation they have down there!) and have a chat with the chef, Brett Graham, who was so lovely, humble and friendly. We told him that we could feel his passion and love in everything we had tasted that day, and it was an absolute pleasure to meet him and the rest of the team.
I honestly don't think I could top the food, the service or the company - it was such a memorable afternoon, and I couldn't feel more grateful for how fortunate I am. If you have a special occasion coming up, or want to treat someone (they'd better be worth it!), I would recommend you The Ledbury as the place to go, above anywhere else I've tried in London. E agrees with me, as does everyone else I know who have been there.
Thank you to all the hard working chefs and team at The Ledbury for an unforgettable meal, and to E for being a far better partner in life than I deserve. Now the pressure is on for your birthday...
127 Ledbury Road